ATLANTA — The chairman of the House Ethics Committee shot back at advocates for limits on lobbyists’ gifts by charging that nearly half of the legislative candidates supporting it have their own ethics failures.
Rep. Joe Wilkinson, R-Atlanta, issued a press release Tuesday afternoon detailing the candidates or incumbents who have signed the gift-cap pledge and who also either have not turned in reports to the state ethics commission or submitted them late enough to trigger a fine.
“It is disappointing, ironic and hypocritical that 49 candidates for the Georgia House of Representatives who signed a petition to impose a $100 lobbyist gift cap on lawmakers are themselves in violation of ethics and campaign finance laws,” he said.
Wilkinson and House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, have been the staunchest opponents of a specified limit on how much lobbyists can spend on meals, gifts, trips and event tickets they give to lawmakers or their staff. The pair argue that the current system of required reporting that gives the public information about who is on the receiving end of those gifts wouldn’t stop the largess but only discourage lobbyists from reporting levels that would trigger automatic violations.
Ralston calls the gift cap a gimmick.
On Tuesday, Wilkinson suggested it was pandering to get votes.
“On the one hand they seek to promote so-called ‘ethics’ by endorsing a meaningless ‘gift ban,’ yet on the other hand are behaving unethically by flouting current laws,” he said.
The new revelations came on a day when supporters of the limits held a press conference at the Capitol and launched a statewide bus tour to rally support for non-binding questions on the Republican and Democratic primary ballots this month on gifts.
Sen. Josh McKoon, a freshman Republican from Columbus who introduced legislation with a $100 gift cap last session, was on the bus tour when contacted about the allegations against the 49 signers.
He said he wasn’t familiar with the circumstances in each case or why the candidates didn’t file their disclosure reports, but he said Wilkinson is trying to change the subject as public support for the gift limit grows.
“Obviously, people are feeling the pressure, and they’re responding to it in different ways,” McKoon said. “I think it’s entirely irrelevant if candidates for office who happen to support the gift cap have failed to follow other campaign-finance laws.”